Isan Soul

Thursday
12:00pm - 10:00pm
98 Bourke Street Melbourne 3000

At Isan Soul, tables buzz with chatter, and the shelves are crammed with knick-knacks such as old cassettes, gumball machines, baskets, vintage soft drink signs, china plates, bottles, radios, toys and more.

Every single piece here is imported from Thailand, that includes the tuktuk (a Thai-style taxi) parked inside. It all feels like an old garage somewhere in Isan, the north-east region of Thailand’s it’s named for. Isan food tends to pack more heat and sourness than central Thai cuisine. The region is also known for serving sticky rice with dishes, rather non-sticky long-grain rice.

Head chef Ben Kunchairattana serves a mix of street-style snacks and heartier dishes: a whole steamed barramundi arrives on a hotplate with a still-bubbling lime and chilli sauce; fish balls come with sticky-sweet chilli sauce; and spicy grilled chicken pieces come speared on wooden sticks. There’s also a rich red duck curry, wok-fried soft-shell crab in curry powder sauce and crisp chicken spare ribs.

To drink, there’s sweet Thai milk tea and caffeine-free Butterfly Pea tea made from ternatea flowers, which turns purple with a squeeze of lime.

The team uses the tuktuk as a hot bar, mimicking Thai street vendors and providing a faster takeaway option during the lunchtime rush.

Updated: August 20th, 2019

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